Two Plays, One Subject: How Families Connect or Don’t

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By Karen Isaacs

 How do we connect with the ones we love?

This is the topic are explored in two short plays now in repertory at Ridgefield’s Thrown Stone Theatre through Aug. 3.

This is an intimate performing space with under 75 seats around three sides of the stage. You enter through the back of the stage.

Each of the plays – Birds of North America and Cry It Out are new to Connecticut or the East Coast, though Cry It Out will have a production at Hartford Stage this fall.

Birds of North America by Anna Moench has an adult daughter and father talking while bird watching over many autumnal years. John is a scientist and physician and his young adult daughter Caitlin. Each is somewhat at loose end: when we first meet John: a project he has been working on for decades which has been in thet final stage of development,  has been proven a dead end. Caitlin is unable to complete the novel she’s been working on.

The relationship is tentative partly because John often seems to disapprove, or not get the emotions right, or offer too many suggestions. I would guess that he may be “on the spectrum.” This of course infuriates and upsets Caitlin.

So over the years (2011-2023) we hear about boyfriends, a husband, job changes, and more. A constant source of contention is that Cailtin works for a right wing organization though her views do not align with it.

You see the two reach a tentative understanding as each gets older.

The show is sensitively directed by Jason Peck who gets excellent performances from J. R. Sullivan as John and Mélisa Breiner-Sanders as Cailtin. You feel both the irritations and the deepening love. At times you may want to take John aside, and chastise him for his reactions. The play uses birdwatching and the life list that dedicated birders use as a metaphor for the relationship and our lives.

Cry It Out by Molly Smith Metzler goes in a different direction all together. We have two women (Jessie and Lina) who bond in Jessie’s backyard in Port Washington, NY. What brings them together is that each has an infant and feels trapped in their houses.  They are unalike in multiple ways: Lina is pure Jersey shore, living with her partner’s mother (they plan to marry but haven’t), and working as a secretary in a hospital. Jessie is a corporate lawyer in NYC who husband’s family has money and roots in the area.

In reality they have little in common except their babies. Lina has to go back to work soon but doesn’t want to; it is an economic necessity. Jessie is doubting her plan to return to her firm. From what we learn as they meet over the spring, each  have relationships that might have the beginnings of cracks in them. Jessie’s husband makes decisions without her and wants to buy a second home in Montauk adjacent to his parents’. Jessie becomes convinced she want to be a stay-at-home mom.  Lina wants desperately to leave her mother-in-law’s house and worries that the woman’s drinking does not make her a fit babysitter for the infant.

One day, a well-dressed gentleman enters the yard; he lives on the hill overlooking the yard and has seen them get together. His purpose? To ask them to invite his wife, Adrienne, to join the group. They too have an infant and he is concerned that Adrienne seems disconnected to the child.

Adrienne does attends but angrily; she is only doing it so her husband will stop badgering her. She explains her side of their story: she’s a jewelry designer with her own firm on the brink of a major breakthrough to the big time.

The ending is not totally predictable, so I won’t share it with you.

The four actors all do a good job but Maria McConville as the Jersey shore Lina, does seem to overdo it. It is the stereotype made famous by the reality show.  Claire Parme is the conflicted Jessie, Wynter Kullman the angry and sullen Adrienne and Jonathan Winn as Mitchel. Kullman also verges on over-doing the anger particularly on such a small stage. But director Gina Pulice did a good job keeping the show moving.

The scenic design by Fufan Zhang works effectively for both shows. The lighting by Lydia Strong and the original music in Birds by Aidan Meachem contributed greatly to that show.

Thrown Stone Theatre at 440 Main St., Ridgefield. For tickets visit Thrown Stone Theatre.

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